The feeding of any stud of birds is the key to success or failure in all aspects of canary management. A haphazard approach will mirror the same results. All top breeders follow a consistent plan based upon the successful results they have achieved throughout the years, with the door always open for experimentation.
My own particular feeding regime is not vastly different from most nor is it over complicated with graphs and charts. I use a good quality mixed canary seed all year round and change drinking water daily. I buy all my canary food from Amazon. I do use a variety of supplements at different times of year and have tried all the different products available from all the major companies. Quiko’s, Living World and Nekton products by far are the best I have used and the results I have achieved through their use are a testimonial to the quality and effectiveness.
I have learned over the last five years the requirements of my stud and what to feed at what time of year. This does change due to the fluctuation in the weather patterns, for example, the birds can come into breeding condition quicker if the early part of the year is kind so a cut back on supplements is necessary, or vice versa.
The feeding program I have adopted is split into four sections, which are related to the time of year. The first section is the BUILD UP to the breeding season, the second is the BREEDING SEASON, the third period is the MOULT and the fourth and final I call the QUIET TIME, although maybe not for the show team.
Artificial light, along with the feeding, obviously play an important part in the build-up to the breeding period especially if you wish to breed early or leave home early for work. I commence both the light and feeding build up on December 25th and always have chicks by the second week in March.
All cock birds will be housed in double breeders and four hens in a flight cage (the flight cages are five cages in length with the slides pulled out). Heat is also used but only if the temperature drops really low.
Soft food and condition seed are gradually increased until they have a little each day. Again seed and fresh water are given daily. Two or three times before breeding starts one of the mixes of soft food fed will contain Natural Yogurt, a great natural probiotic. Epsom salts (for magnesium) are also added to the drinking water a week before the yogurt is given but only on two to three occasions.
At eight weeks into the build-up, the majority of the hens are ready to start building. I introduce the nest pan to all the hens around the same time as I have been caught out before thinking a bird is not ready and found eggs smashed on the floor.
By week ten, the lights are on for fourteen hours per day and most of the hens sitting on eggs. I continue to feed the hens a finger drawer of soft food whilst they are sitting. A lot is wasted but most hens eat a little and it entices them off the nest to fly around a bit. Hopefully, when they arrive back at the nest they will turn the eggs before getting comfortable again.
For the parents build up and for the rearing periods, I add the Vitamin supplement (Quikon Forte) to the soft food. This is changed gradually for the youngsters when they are weaned (to Living World Prime Powder). This is to assist the young in increasing their body weight.
Listed below are the foods, management, and methods I used for the 2012-breeding season. I have always managed to produce a reasonable number of quality Crested Canary chicks and in 2012, from nineteen hens, I successfully reared 67 quality youngsters.
I place the nest pans in tripods, which can be moved around the cage if necessary. Many hens will not build in the pan but prefer a corner of the cage. If a hen does this, when she has finished building, I place her nest in a nest pan. Then, when she has laid her fourth egg, on the morning, I set the eggs. I place the pan in a tripod and gradually move it to the middle of the cage and introduce a perch either side of the nest pan.
I also find the tripods useful for eliminating a build up of droppings down the back of the cage, which usually occurs with the conventional method of fastening the nest pan on the middle of the cage back wall. If the cock bird is left with the hen I will push the pan to the back of the cage so he does not make the hen sit too tightly with his jumping back and forth from perch to perch. I know most articles will stipulate that a nest pan must have a slight springy motion when a parent lands on it, this encouraging the young to raise their heads for food. I have never had a problem with this probably due to hand feeding but the crest is also a heavy canary so even in the tripods I think the chicks must sense some movement.
One amusing moment was when I bought a plastic nest pan fixed to a spring with a square base. When placed in the cage the hen went to investigate, landed on the side and the whole thing catapulted her to the far end of the cage. I could visualize chicks sitting in the pan with their heads over the top swaying around like they were in the middle of a force ten gale, hence I stuck with the tripods.
Cock birds can go off the boil halfway through the breeding season. A consistent small amount of vitamins in the soft food will help maintain their stamina, as it will for the feeding hens. I supply a small amount of soft food to each hen every day through the incubation period. Some of my hens this year reared nine chicks over two rounds, all on their own.
On the morning of day 14 of incubation, I give a little-soaked seed along with the soft food, (fed separately). If all has gone well when the chicks arrive the parents are fed soaked seed and soft food three times a day.
Along with my soft food mix, I feed soaked seed with added Groats and mung beans but only when the chicks are hatching and through the molt, not during the build up. Also, I place a small grit block in each cage, about the size of an iodine block. This seems to keep them occupied for hours and keeps beaks in trim.
I have heard it said by many breeders that Crests are bad parents; I would change this to possibly lazy parents. I hand feed all young until they are strong enough to hold up their heads and pester their parents for food – this does the trick for most. All chicks are topped up with hand feed at night.
In 2012, I hand fed every chick until it was strong enough to raise its head and pester its mother for food. I hear so many newcomers to the fancy discussing the number of squashed chicks they get each year especially fanciers who keep the heavier breeds. I am sure to hand feed would help them with this problem but I do realize how time-consuming it can be.
Weaning takes place when the chicks are picking up food on their own, this can be as long as five weeks. I have never weaned a Crest chick at 21 days! I believe if I did this I would lose every bird I bred. Some I continued hand feeding until they decided they didn’t want it anymore, (they squat low in the nest pan as if they are backing off), and a majority of the chicks I would top up at night.
Green food is fed to the hens with chicks in the form of dandelion leaves (these are the only safe and plentiful item available right through the breeding season where I live).
When the young are eventually weaned I feed them on soft food and soaked seed. I mix the soft food with the soaked seed, this means they will eat all the mix and not just the soaked seed. At this period I switch the vitamin powder added to the youngsters’ soft food from Quikon Forte to Living World Prime Powder, which will help the young put on a little more bodyweight. Hard seed is placed in the hoppers and they seem to take it when they want it.
Until recently, like most of you, I would sprinkle grit at the back of the cage after cleaning out. The birds would then spend hours picking out the grit from the sawdust. This year, through a friend, I obtained a grit block about two-thirds the size of a house brick these can be broken into smaller pieces and placed in the cage. My birds sit on them and spend hours pecking at them. They are invaluable for flight cages as they reduce bickering and the birds will benefit from the minerals and trace elements.
As the breeding season comes to an end (this the birds themselves will decide), the first feathers start to fall. This year I am feeding all my birds adult and young alike, soft food mixed with soaked seed every day. I add a small amount of vitamin powder (Quikon Plus) and spirulina powder to this mixture. This will be fed until around September then the feeding is changed as outlined in the autumn and show season section.
The lighting is reduced over an eight-week period so by September the birds can take advantage of their quiet time before next years preparations begin. The show-teams will be fed the same, I have not found any extra pick me ups necessary so far.
The molt is a very stressful time and a young bird with a razor for a breastbone is going to be weak and susceptible to infection. A good healthy youngster will come through the molt quicker plus the feather and color can be naturally enhanced through feeding. All my additives are mixed with the soft food, if a bird is off color I place an extra vitamin supplement in the drinking water (Nekton-S Multi-Vitamin for Birds), the problem with this is they waste a lot of it and bacteria seems to build up rather quickly so to administer this way all the time could have the reverse effect we are trying to achieve. I continue with soft food daily until the molt is finished, adding a little vitamin powder (Living World Prime Powder) and spirulina powder to help enhance color.
I continue with soft food daily until the molt is finished, adding a little vitamin powder (Living World Prime Powder) and spirulina powder to help enhance color. All through the autumn I feed soft food twice a week and try to give the birds as much rest and quiet time as possible, all birds are housed on their own, flight cages are not used as bickering can be stressful, plus a Crest with a good cap will crash around like a disturbed chicken.
Autumn & the show season is the period I find invaluable for assessing which birds to retain and which to dispose of. Some of my young will have been bred purely for the following breeding season and retained on pedigree (barring any major faults.) The visual show birds can be assessed on the show bench with those of the more experienced fanciers and a good assessment taken. Comments from others are most valuable, especially the criticisms. One tip I always follow is to look at the youngster which carries the worst faults, then asses the rest of the family, and make your decision from there.
The rest of the stud throughout this period will be housed in single cages, possibly a few Crest-bred hens in a double if they seem to be getting fat, but I like to give them what I call ‘their quiet time’. Soft food twice a week with a small amount of vitamin & mineral supplement. Mixed canary seed is given daily and fresh water. I use artificial light but only from 8 am until 3 pm. I found one year I kept my stud too fit for too long, they bred early but the results were terrible with some birds molting twice.
Looking for a complete how-to guide? Be sure to read Common Canary Breeding Problems, Concerns and Care